Gamecocks Take Winning Streak to Rupp

Riding high on a three game conference winning streak, the Gamecocks will look to continue their success in one of the toughest environments in the SEC: Kentucky's Rupp Arena. The Wildcats (16-5, 5-1 SEC) are ranked 24th, the only ranked team in the SEC. They are also one game ahead of Carolina (15-4, 4-2 SEC) in the SEC East, setting up a showdown that could have ramifications in March.

Kentucky is led by guard Jodie Meeks and forward Patrick Patterson, the second highest scoring duo in the country. Patterson averages 18.0 points per game, fifth in the SEC, and 9.3 rebounds per contest, second in the league, and has a league high ten double-doubles this season. Still, his accomplishments have taken a backseat to what Meeks, the SEC Player of the Year frontrunner and a National Player of the Year candidate, has done this year.

Meeks is the SEC's leading scorer, averaging 25.8 points, and 29.3 in conference play. He has scored over 30 five times, including a school-record 54 point explosion against Tennessee. As a result, opponents have been pulling out all the stops to attempt to slow down Meeks, whether it is constant double teams or dusting off the box and one (used extensively by Ole Miss in their upset of Kentucky this past Tuesday). Do not expect to see any of that from the Gamecocks, however.

"Regardless of how you play when you have a perimeter guy as dangerous as him, you need to be aware of where he is and not let him cut loose and get a lot of open looks," said Darrin Horn. "That's something that we'll be aware of because of his ability to score. The same is true on the inside with Patterson. Any time you're playing good scorers you've got to be aware of where they are.

"I don't think you stop any one player with an individual matchup. It's got to be a complete team effort."

Even with Sam Muldrow back, South Carolina is undersized against most teams, but it is especially apparent against Kentucky, who outrebounds opponents by 7.1 boards per game. Meeks is 6'4" and Patterson is 6'9", which makes them fairly typical for the Wildcats. In addition to those two, Kentucky's top eight players include guys 6'3" (Michael Porter), 6'6" (DeAndre Liggins), 6'7" (Ramon Harris and Darius Miller), 6'9" (Perry Stevenson) and 6'10" (Josh Harrellson).

"They are long and athletic, and they've got a lot of guys who are capable of doing good things," said Horn. "I think they're managers are 6'5" and above. That's as much a concern as it is anything else."

That length translates into strong defense. Kentucky allows just 64.5 points per game (for a +14.0 scoring margin), and shoots 49.6% from the field while not allowing a single opponent to top 50% shooting this year, holding opponents to 36.8%. Just for good measure, although Horn has repeatedly insisted the Gamecocks are not that bad at free throw shooting (63.9%), Kentucky shoots 79% from the charity stripe.

Playing at Rupp Arena will be a homecoming for Horn. He was born in Lexington before playing and then coaching at Western Kentucky. He has never coached at Rupp though he played there once in college, and he also recalled playing there in high school.

"We tipped off at 1:00 on a Wednesday and had 19,000 [in attendance] in the state tournament," recalled Horn. "To me that's always been the difference. It's never been about Kentucky, even though I grew up there. It's been about recognizing that that is a big stage and this is what big time college basketball looks like."

Like most coaches, Horn insists he will be focused entirely on his team, not the opponent or the building. Still, he might notice there are a few more Gamecock fans than usual in Lexington.

"I think it will be really special for my family and friends," he said, "but I think come game time I'll be pretty focused on what we need to do for the game and pretty much just feel like I'm doing my job."

Notes:

- Kentucky, the all-time winningest program in NCAA history, leads the series against Carolina 41-7. The Gamecocks have won just once in 22 tries in Lexington (1997). Carolina has not beating the Wildcats since a 65-61 win in the 2006 SEC Tournament.
- USC point guard Devan Downey is just 39 points away from scoring 1,000 for his career.
- Tipoff is a 3:00 PM Saturday. The game will be televised by Raycom (WIS in Columbia).

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